Team Australia ended the UK’s third year winning streak at the annual Phillip Island International Classic race event this weekend.
The Island Classic has emerged as the world’s leading race meeting for classic motorbikes and the 25th edition proved to be the highest profile yet, with world superbike champions Troy Corser and Colin Edwards joining the star studded lineup.
Held over four races in the main class, the Classic consists of an individual championship for the riders, whose points also count towards a team competition between the hosts, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the USA.
Australian TT racer David Johnson, who earlier in the week announced his signing to a new Gulf-sponsored BMW squad for 2018, was the star of the show and led his nation to victory. Riding a Suzuki XR69, Johnson set pole position and bagged two wins and two seconds to take the overall win by one point from Britain’s Jeremy McWilliams. The former Grand Prix racer, a perennial front runner at the event, won the first and last races of the weekend on his Harris Yamaha F1 machine, but a third in the second race saw his hopes of the overall win dashed.
“I’m really happy to win overall, but more importantly to help Australia retain the international challenge,” said Johnson. “My tyre wasn’t enjoying the heat in that last race, so when McWilliams passed me he gapped me straight away. But that doesn’t matter: to be a part of a winning team is what it’s all about.”
Backing Johnson up were Corser and Paul Byrne. The Aussie duo were joint third in the standings, ahead of British superbike stars Dan Linfoot and Peter Hickman. Australian born Brit Glen Richards had starred in the UK team but was penalised by a harsh points structure that punished failures to finish the races. The Hinckley based former British superbike rider finished on the podium in the first two races but crashed out of Sunday’s final six-lapper. That indiscretion saw him fall from third in the standings to 11th.
“Losing Glen (Richards) in that last race was disappointing, as he was one of our main point scorers,” added McWilliams. “I knew what I had to do – get out the front and fight with Johnson – and the others knew what they needed to do. However, a fair share of mechanical issues have really hurt us. Once the Aussies got the jump it was very hard to claw them back. And the Aussies were always going to win back the International Challenge one day – but we’ve been doing our best to stop them!”
As expected, Edwards was by far and away the best of the American contingent, although his uncompetitive Yamaha FJ1200 meant he wasn’t quite able to challenge for a podium finish. He ended the event eighth in the points standings.
“I had a blast and it’s been so much fun, even though I had big problems in the opening two races,” added Edwards. “You live and learn, and there’s no doubt we were under prepared compared to Australia and the UK.”
As well as a packed weekend of classic bike races across a number of classes, Italian legend Giagomo Agostini was also in attendance with four priceless MV Agusta race bikes. The now 75-year-old, statistically the greatest motorcycle racer of all time, went out on track on the four-cylinder machine upon which he won the 1972 and 1973 350cc Grand Prix World Championships so that fans could ‘hear the music’.